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Egypt’s sham diplomacy and the politics of Nile to undermine Ethiopia’s legitimacy to its own water

Ethioobserver Editorial

Ethiopia, a country with a population of over 100 million and robust economic growth for the last 15 years has from time to time been plagued by famine and frequent drought due to climate changes. Ethiopia has registered important progress empowering its people by unleashing their own visions and expectations. Ethiopia provides the vast majority of the Nile water volume on which Egypt depends. The Blue Nile originates from the Ethiopian Highlands in the Lake Tana with its several tributaries and has not been able to exploit the Blue Nile's water resources due its own and other players economic, political, and geostrategic reasons.

 Ethiopia has never accepted unilateral agreement based on colonial treaties and has therefore its own reservations on the right to utilize the water resources of the Nile for the benefit of its people.  Egypt and the United States with the World Bank must understand Ethiopia’s effort to tackle problems of food security and energy.  Ethiopia has no choice but use her natural waters for the purpose of energy and food production.

Ethiopia’s use of the Blue Nile is also in line with the UN convection of equitable and sustainable utilization of the country’s resources within its own territory as an attribute to its sovereign right. The right of Ethiopia to utilize its water resources remains valid and firmly committed to a peaceful and win-win situation for the common good of its people and neighboring countries. No one has to offer this legitimate right from external bodies in the internal affairs of Ethiopia. Tony Allan, a leading scholar and scientist on the water issue in general and the Nile in particular, pointed out the injustice in the Egyptian position and calls the plan of Egypt as preposterous and, a national fantasy. 

Yet the Trump administration continues to mask harmful policy and fundamentally flawed negotiations neglecting the riparian states of the Nile basin. Despite Ethiopia’s unique important national interest, the United States has issued a badly formulated and unveiled threat to coerce Ethiopia to sign an agreement on matters that involve Ethiopia’s sovereignty and vital survival issue. Ethiopia initiated the $4.2 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam Project in 2011 with the goal of creating one of the world's largest hydroelectric power plants. The Ethiopian people has funded the Dam Project without any involvement remembering the loan denial earlier for this project and the Dam Project is now approximately 71 percent complete and it has started the process of diverting some of the Blue Nile toward the Dam Project reservoir.

In a statement released last week, Mnuchin said he held separate bilateral talks with Egypt and the Sudan based on a fraudulent scheme so that Ethiopia agrees to a revived colonial agreement imposed by Britain prohibiting Nile basin countries from undertaking projects that would reduce the river’s flow. Thus we have the so-called “historical rights” of Egypt in every propaganda, statement and meeting, blocking the way for an equitable share.  In 1999 all Riparian states except Egypt agreed to a new framework for allocations of the Nile’s water resources. More than 85 percent of the Nile’s comes down from the Blue Nile in Ethiopia. The government of Egypt is once again involved in a catch-22 type circular argument, to delay on the technicality, diplomacy and security with all forms of deceptions to damage Ethiopia’s interest.   Ethiopia’s right is egregiously violated and resembles a new colonial agenda to impose on its head with all shenanigans and mischief served at its present leadership. Although some imbeciles in the current leadership may have miscalculated their role in this very strategic project of self-sustenance, the Dam is throughout and completely an Ethiopian affair, where all Ethiopian stakeholders have a say in any move of the grandiose and a bulwark of national pride. There is also the hearsay that Ethiopians would be amenable to political, ethnical, religious influences by sheer interference, but does not hold water and is an utter miscalculation of realities.

The Trump administration’s attempt to push Ethiopia, outside its competence, through dictation, and threats only emboldens Egypt to continue ignoring the interests of Africans. There is a lot more at stake for Ethiopia’s long term interest. The Trump administration’s imposition of its conditions with IMF and World Bank with the stick and carrot approach is a miserable understanding of what Ethiopia makes Ethiopia. Ethiopia does not ask for charity from anybody but is keen on making the Nile a river of peace and mutual cooperation in a “fair and equitable way”.

 Ethiopia is not ready to cooperate and cannot accept any deals or agreements with those who dictate on it. How can anyone expect the Trump administration to solve the problem when his weight as a jury is in favor of Egypt’s interest? This is why Ethiopians and Ethiopian Americans have strong suspicions about the true intentions of the Trump administration against Ethiopia on the operation of the GERD’s initial fillings.

We believe the US involvement is highly important as an observer realizing the potential for conflict regarding the Nile among Egypt, and Ethiopia. The key rules governing the use of the Nile are largely derived from the Convention on the Law of Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses.  ("the Convention") concluded by the United Nations in 1997. Egypt and Ethiopia are not parties to it, the Convention is generally considered to be the most accurate representation of customary international law regarding international watercourses.

The Convention rests on the core principles of equitable and reasonable utilization and participation of the riparian states exploiting a watercourse, and an obligation not to cause significant harm to other states sharing the watercourse. These principles are reflected in Articles 5 and 7 of the Convention. Article 5 requires states to "participate in the use, development and protection of an international watercourse in an equitable and reasonable manner”. Ethiopia with the language and spirit of Article 5 should reject any claim that treaties between Egypt and Sudan, to which Ethiopia was not a party, govern Ethiopia's current and future use of the Nile's water resources. The Dam Project could use the water potential to generate hydroelectric power and the use of electric power for further irrigation purposes in other parts of the country through the electrification of the country and even with excesses for export to neighboring countries. Supporting Ethiopia’s priorities of fighting diseases, eradication of poverty and promoting sustainable development is a benefit for all by advancing regional security. The successes of war on terrorism cannot be assured by treating Ethiopia as simple geo-strategic real estate by ignoring the priorities and challenges of Ethiopian national interest.   

Likewise, the Trump administration says to support rhetorically its engagement as an observer but its support in the African context has not been coherent. Ethiopia deserves attention, because Ethiopia is Africa’s second most populous nation and a potential as regional stabilizer with its resources. Ethiopia’s concerns are being marginalized and undermined by the Trump administration callously; therefore the Ethiopian government should be on full alert and remain vigilant against any deceptive diplomatic attempts. Egyptian selfish position is an attempt to imitate the attitude of their colonialist masters of unjust wealth division of upstream nations of Africa, Thus, Ethiopia is in dangerous path, where some statements from Arab League try to justify to Egyptian narrative by their exclusive narrow minded declarations alienating Africans and African interest.  We hope that the Arab League with their undiplomatic association with Egypt are not encouraging the one-sided party without hearing the other one. Egypt may come with its incessant obsession of scare mongering, but no one in Ethiopia is ever worried for any confrontation and God forbid of any eventualities in the whole region.

The Nile basin harmonious peace initiative should be at the center of US Foreign policy. Ethiopia should prepare to defend all pressures to protect its strong position of using fair and equitable utilization of Nile. The Ethiopian government should not succumb an inch to any external pressure and, it is time that we speak with one voice to reject Egypt’s inflexible position. Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is a pride of the Ethiopian people built on their sweat and money that represents a unified voice for sustainable development and progress in the 21st century away from past legacies of colonial treaties. Ethiopians also do know that any threat by an outside power leads to congregation of their forces to defend as one nation and history has time and again shown this fact with wars against Ishmael Pasha’s in Gundet, Gurae, Aylet, Senhit and against Italians in Adwa and during the Second World War.

United we resist any outside force and interference!


Ω March 6th, 2020


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